OpEd: Racist nickname for Hawaii landmark must go

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By Caracas1830 via Wikimedia Creative Commons

By Asian Americans for Community Action

Mokoli’i island is an islet in Kane’ohe Bay, Hawai’i and part of Kualoa
Regional Park. It is one of the most picturesque spots on Oahu. Let’s
work together to ensure businesses, news outlets and governmental
agencies use the proper Hawaiian name and eliminate references to the
racist nickname, “Chinaman’s Hat” that is offensive to so many of us.

For many of Hawaii’s 200,000+ residents of Chinese heritage, the
use of the slur “Chinaman” is analogous to the use of the N-word to refer to African Americans. The use of the C-word is unacceptable, and as the colloquial name for Mokoli’i Island, runs counter to Hawaii’s respect for ethnic diversity and spirit of aloha.

Currently, racially and ethnically offensive names of public places and institutions are being changed across the United States, with action at the federal, state and local levels. The federal government is in the midst of renaming 660 mountains, rivers, lakes and remote islands. The
NFL football team previously known as the “Washington Redskins”, is now the Washington Commanders. The MLB baseball team formerly called the “Cleveland Indians” has been renamed the Cleveland Guardians. California’s “Squaw Valley Ski Resort” is now called Palisades Tahoe.


Since March 2022, nearly 20 organizations have eliminated the racist nickname from their websites and publications, including Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Tourism Authority, Getty Images, TripAdvisor, Viator and Wikipedia, but more work is still needed.

Your support is essential to successfully eliminate the racist nickname from our local vocabulary and the consciousness of Hawaii’s millions of visitors – once and for all. By updating your website and publication, you will be part of the solution to eliminate the racist nickname and preserve the dignity of Mokoli’i.


If you have any questions, or are aware of additional websites and/or publications that need updating, please contact us at [email protected]

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7 COMMENTS

  1. So comical. The Hawaiian name is also a reference to something bad! …. “Mokoli’i” in Beckwith’s compilation of Hawaiian legendary stories is a remnant of a dashed-to-pieces brigand who used to waylay and murder travelers at the narrow pass around Kaoio Point. He was killed by Ka-ulu who broke his body into bits….one of the bits is Mokoli’i islet. Whether we call it a conical hat reminiscent of rice farmers (who displaced taro farmers in the 19th century), or a piece of a murderous polynesian brigand, both names are pieces of whimsy. I’m ok with either one. Every group in the america part of the US, and now beginning here in the polynesian part, seems to have contracted the Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect” disease, but sadly, without the humor! Mo bettah our local tradition of humor enjoyed about every ethnic group! Calling ‘Chinaman’s Hat’ a ‘slur’ is one prickly way of looking at it….but that is what rice farmers’ hats looked like, and those were the Hawaii rice farmers back in the day. Take your pick.

  2. I prefer also to change the sickness of “Spanish flu” to “Latino Virus”…… oooooooo that’s spicy. This article is the dumbest complaint. Nearly all the local populace here view and will always view this landmark as such. No racial ties to it what so ever. The term originates from an artist named Dean Howell. Mokoli’i Island’s (which is the island name) is derivative of an Hawaiian cultural story. Look it up. K den mah braddahs n sistahs, unko’s n auntehs, keep it pono. Shootz.

  3. The author doesn’t understand anything about Hawaii and probably never will. No one is offended by the name “Chinaman’s Hat”, the popular nickname for Mokoli’i.

    Please don’t tell us what names to use in our land. It’s our culture and we would all appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to interfere with it. We will call it what we want for our own reasons.

  4. I wonder how this met the highest standards for journalism? Is the author a person or some group, if so did they get together and work out the wording together? Did they ask anybody who lives in nearby Kualoa their opinions on this name?

    • It was labeled an oped. That’s what an oped is. It’s an opinion. The author was listed as the organization, so the opinion represented that of the author or group.

  5. I live in Honolulu, grew up in the SF Bay Area, and have traveled extensively across the mainland working for the military and in private industry. In Hawaii, I’ve not heard the C-man word used, our culture surrounding ethnic differences here is more evolved than on the mainland. In Hawaii, everyone’s treated as a minority and poked fun at equally.

    On the mainland, it’s another story though. I remember being called C-man growing up in San Francisco’s Western Addition, by security officers at shopping malls, and hearing it shouted at me from passing cars in Detroit and in the Deep South. My dad was a WW2 veteran and served in the U.S. Navy SeaBees. He was born in China and told me stories of how he was called C-man by fellow sailors as they built roads together in the Philippines. C-man is a very hurtful term to Americans of Chinese descent. I can’t even write the word out without getting a chill down my spine, so I don’t. While it may not have the same universally negative connotation among locals in Hawaii, that one of our most identifiable landmarks uses the word.as its nickname normalizes C-man for the tens of millions of visitors to Oahu. Tourists take it home with them to the mainland and now have permission to use the word. A friend of mine described a scene at Kualoa Park where a mainland family was taking pictures of Mokoli’i Island, after the family photo was taken their teenage kids began chanting C-man as they cackled loudly.

    Chinese- Americans and new immigrants from China will have an increasingly tough road in the years ahead as our political interest with mainland China continue to diverge. Let’s do what we can to not make the road any rockier for our Chinese friends. Mokoli’i Island has an official name, let’s encourage our friends and visitors to use it. Mahalo.

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